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Pay artists proper wages

Page history last edited by Alison Croggon 16 years, 1 month ago

I am writing with my thoughts on what I believe is a critical issue for the future of Australian cultural development in the hope that you might carry these with you to Canberra.


Quite simply, artists don’t get paid properly.


It is a complex web of circumstances that has led to the erosion of fees for artists’ services and artists themselves are not blameless in that they accept ridiculous offers but to highlight the current dire situation:


I know of a local hotel that puts on four bands a night for $50 per band (ie, $50 for each ensemble, that’s $10 each if five piece). So the venue owner gets four acts for $200. In 1987 we were earning $150 each in a seven-piece ensemble, three or four nights a week. So the venue owner was paying $1000+ for one act. That was twenty years ago.


* I was recently offered an engagement at a major music festival for a $1000 flat fee for one week of work, no accommodation or travel or living allowance. The petrol alone to get there and back would have cost me $1200. The same festival offers opportunities for young players to perform for free entry to their weekend event. This is exploitative in light of the festival getting audiences in the many tens of thousands through their door. Similar fee structures are in place in many major regional festivals, particularly music festivals


* A scroll through the Arts Hub website reveals almost no paid jobs on offer for artists. There are plenty of administration positions, but most work offered for actors, dancers and musicians is ‘volunteer/unpaid’ or ‘profit share’


* APAP in America only charges acts US$10,000 to play the half hour spot at the slap up formal delegates dinner – there is a queue a mile long to be chosen as it will lead to SO MUCH WORK. Is that the way we want to go?


* Some Galleries in New York take 100% of sales of work and the artist pays for the invites and the wine and cheese because YOUR CAREER IS ASSURED IF YOU SHOW WITH US. Is that how we want to go here?


* Government subsidised festivals like the Comedy and the Fringe have a very impressive list of performances. Ask the performers and you will see that most make a loss. Yet these festivals typically employ a full office of full time staff to produce the event.


Artists are an attraction when they perform. Lots of people make money from this but quite often the artist makes a loss. It is simply unsustainable.  Until we can lift urban and regional infrastructure to professional levels our talent will leave the shores or give up and get ‘real jobs’. Traditionally they turn to teaching – to train more artists for the dole queue.


As a respected independent artist of nearly thirty years I believe we now have in Australia a serious imbalance between the level of remuneration for administrators and bureaucrats on the one hand and artists on the other. We must remind ourselves that the whole circus only operates because people want to see the clowns.


My suggestion is to encourage some serious comparative research that examines fee structures in a range of other economies, especially Europe (notably France, Germany, Switzerland and Finland), the United States, Canada and the UK with a view towards a grass-roots overhaul of all arts organizations and venue managers that makes it illegal to offer below poverty line wages to artists, and let’s take a very detailed look at where the money goes in government arts spending and calculate exactly the percentage that actually reaches artists.

Graeme Leak

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